Clinical Editor: Anna Askari, MD
Did you know your bones are living tissues? Throughout your life, your body breaks down old bone and makes new bone. When you were younger, you made new bone faster than your body broke it down, so your bone mass increased. Peak bone mass usually happens around age thirty, and after that, your body naturally begins to lose more bone than it makes.
Loss of bone density is a normal part of aging, but some people experience a condition called osteoporosis, which causes the bones to become weak and brittle and increases the risk of a fracture. The disease often develops over time, and it may not cause noticeable symptoms until you break a bone.
A number of factors can affect your bone mass as you get older, including how much bone mass you had when your bone production peaked. Family history can also increase your risk of developing osteoporosis.
Some factors, such as exercise and diet, can also impact your bone mass over time so it’s important to take steps to keep your bones strong and healthy as you age.
Here are seven simple but effective ways to protect your bone health as you get older.
1. Consume more calcium
You probably know that calcium is important for developing bones, but it’s just as crucial in preventing bone loss later on in life. The recommended dietary allowance is 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day for adults ages 19-50 and men and individuals assigned male at birth ages 51-70. Women and individuals assigned female at birth 51 and older and men 71 and older, who are at a higher risk of osteoporosis, should aim for 1,200 milligrams of calcium each day.
A cup of skim or one percent milk contains about 300 milligrams, but dairy products aren’t the only way to boost your calcium intake. Veggies like kale and broccoli, soy products such as tofu, dried figs, and calcium-fortified bread and juice can also help you reach your goal.
If you’re not able to meet your calcium needs through diet alone, your healthcare provider may recommend a calcium supplement. It’s important to consult your provider before taking any supplements though, to ensure that they’re safe, as supplements are not regulated by the FDA.
Your body can also only absorb 500 milligrams of calcium at one time, so if you take vitamins, you may need to break up the doses throughout the day.
2. Boost your vitamin D intake
Vitamin D also plays an important role in your bone health, as your body can’t absorb calcium without it. If you’re deficient in vitamin D, your body will take calcium from your bones, which ultimately weakens them. A vitamin D deficiency can also stop your body from developing new bone.
It’s best to consume about 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day. Adults older than 71 should aim for 800 IU. Vitamin D-rich foods include fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna, mushrooms, beef liver, eggs, pork, and fortified milk and cereal. Getting outside in the sun can also help your body produce vitamin D. As with calcium, your provider may suggest additional supplements if your vitamin D levels are low.
3. Eat more protein
Increasing your protein intake can also keep your bones healthy and strong. Studies show insufficient protein can decrease calcium absorption and affect bone formation and breakdown rates. Healthy sources of protein include lean meats like poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products, eggs, beans and legumes, and nuts.
However, it’s worth noting that too much protein can actually have the opposite effect on your bones. In general, it’s recommended to consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day, coupled with plenty of vegetables and calcium intake. Your healthcare provider can also help recommend an ideal protein intake for you based on your unique health.
4. Move your body
Exercise is a big part of overall well-being, including your bone health. Along with building muscles and encouraging better balance, which can prevent falls and fractures, regular exercise causes your body to make more bone.
Any type of exercise is beneficial, but to encourage bone health, focus on weight-bearing exercises such as brisk walking, hiking, jogging, or climbing stairs. Resistance exercises, including weight lifting and push-ups, can also help to strengthen your bones.
If you’re new to exercise or it’s been a while since you’ve done much physical activity, chat with your primary care provider about how to start incorporating more movement safely.
5. Quit smoking
Smoking is harmful to your health in many ways, including increasing your risk of lung cancer and stroke. It also heightens your risk of osteoporosis by slowing down the production of cells that help your body form bone. Nicotine can also interfere with blood flow to your bones. Plus, people who smoke are more likely to have other risk factors for osteoporosis, such as poor diet and insufficient exercise. If you smoke, talk to your provider about how to quit.
6. Cut back on alcohol
Similarly, drinking too much alcohol can weaken your bones by interfering with osteoblasts, or cells that help your bones grow. What’s more, excessive drinking can make falls more likely, which can cause fractures if you have low bone density. If you choose to drink alcohol, moderation is key. According to the CDC, moderate drinking — one standard drink per day for women and individuals assigned female at birth and up to two drinks per day for men and individuals assigned male at birth — is fine. One standard drink is twelve ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. Looking to cut back on drinking? Check out our tips on how to reduce your alcohol consumption.
7. Get screened regularly
As you get older, your provider will start to screen you for osteoporosis with bone density tests. In general, women and individuals assigned female at birth should be screened starting at age 65 because they’re at higher risk, while men and individuals assigned male at birth should start getting bone density tests at age 70. A few other risk factors may warrant earlier testing though, so it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider if you:
- Take steroid medications such as prednisone
- Have a medical condition such as rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes, which are risk factors for osteoporosis
- Have had early menopause
- Break a bone at age 50 or older
If your bone density test is normal, then you can wait up to ten years before getting another one, depending on your individual risk factors. People diagnosed with low bone density (osteopenia) should have another screening within two to five years depending on severity, while those with osteoporosis should return for another test in two years.
If you’re diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia, your healthcare provider may recommend medication, lifestyle changes, or both. But keep in mind it’s generally easier to treat bone loss when it’s identified early, so do your best to stay on top of your routine medical visits.
Want to know more about your bone health? Our providers are ready to partner with you to help you achieve your health goals. Reach out to our primary care team via the app or book an appointment today.
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, a national, modern primary care practice pairing 24/7 virtual care services with inviting and convenient in-person care at over 100 locations across the U.S. One Medical is on a mission to transform health care for all through a human-centered, technology-powered approach to caring for people at every stage of life.
Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. 1Life Healthcare, Inc. and the One Medical entities make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.